Is communication the barrier to a paperless NHS?

Last week Health Service Journal published the results to its first annual Technology Survey. The feedback from the 419 health and health IT professionals who participated painted a picture of a sector that appreciates the need for improved IT systems. But what also stood out was the clear lack of internal skills and insight that are considered essential in delivering the 2018 paperless agenda.

When asked “does the NHS leadership community’s lack of IT knowledge undermine Jeremy Hunts’ ambition for a paperless NHS?” a staggering 91% of respondents answered “yes”.

In addition 70% of respondents said that they did not believe that senior trust managers, senior commissioners and clinical leaders have enough knowledge about the potential benefits to efficiency and clinical outcomes improved IT systems can deliver.

These findings highlight a real lack of communication across the board and not just within the IT department. In fact, the knowledge gap seems to be the biggest hindrance to achieving the 2018 paperless ambition.

Interestingly, the follow-up question asks what the best course of action would be to improve this. Options that appear popular include mandating training at senior board level, the appointment of clinical leaders and appointing a group of NHS CEOs to spread best practice.

These are great initiatives but does it really even need to be that complicated!? Should we not be going back to basics and starting with ensuring the people on the ground, those who will be using the technology the most, truly understand its implications?

With little in the mainstream and even healthcare press highlighting the benefits of IT, it is no wonder that so many people lack knowledge and understanding. The NHS can no longer only rely on these channels to get the message out but consider what they can be doing to improve understanding and engagement.

There are various channels that can be used to communicate with internal staff. For example, Highland Marketing is working closely alongside the internal communications team within one of the most innovative and technologically advanced trusts in the UK to help to inform, update and educate staff on the technology proposed and its benefits to staff, patients and the entire organisation.

Activities include:

  • Using internal magazines that are distributed throughout the entire organisation to highlight technology being used within the trust and how this is helping to improve patient safety and ultimately reduce time spent on administration.
  • Creating a microsite specifically for IT – which can be regularly updated, offer support advice and guidance, and can also be used by individual departments to highlight the specific projects they are working on, making end users feel more empowered.
  • Making use of the local press – it is important to tell them about the good and innovative work going on within their local hospital so that staff see positive exposure and patients  have the opportunity to read about these initiatives.

2018 is not that far off; communicating more with internal staff and increasing knowledge of IT and the benefits it has to offer will be a big step forward to remove one of the biggest barriers in achieving the health secretary’s ambition of a paperless NHS.

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